Deer

There are more deer in the UK now than since the Domesday Book.

The numbers and distribution of deer in the UK have been growing and spreading over the past three or four decades.

One reason for this population boom is the increase in new woodlands and forests, providing cover and food for these animals.

There are six species of deer here - red and roe are the natives; fallow came with the Normans and sika, muntjac and Chinese Water deer are relative newcomers from the Far East.

Deer are graceful animals - but too many in the wrong place can cause problems - which is now happening in many woods and on adjoining arable farmland and gardens.

The Highways Agency calculates there are 20-40,000 Road Traffic Accidents involving deer each year.

Deer can damage trees by browsing them, stripping the bark or fraying the trees with their antlers. Expensive fencing or tree shelters may be needed to protect young succulent trees from browsing deer. But deer are having more subtle long-term negative ecological impacts too. Too many deer eating the succulent native ground flora can cause unwanted environmental degradation to the native ground flora and the numbers may need keeping in check. The effect of deer and other grazing animals may prevent any natural regeneration taking place as well.

They can browse off or suppress natural regeneration in both plantations and native woodlands. The young shoots re-sprouting from coppice stools may never get away as deer nip off the new growth year after year - expensive fencing may be necessary in what is often only a break even woodland and conservation management practice.

Deer are selective feeders - by constantly taking certain more palatable shrubs and herbs that are part of the woodland understorey, they change the composition of flora make up in favour of less palatable grasses, bracken and ivy. Especially in ancient and semi-natural woodlands - many of which are nature reserves - the impact of too many deer feeding there is altering the ground flora and with it the associated native biodiversity.

Bluebells, wild arum, dogs mercury, cowslips and some orchids all suffer.

Excluding deer with fences or tree shelters is a partial but costly solution. Better habitat management with deer in mind is another. But humane shooting to reduce or cull the deer stocks is often the only solution with neighbouring land owners coordinating their efforts.

The sale of venison - and trophy stalking - can generate some financial return but rarely covers the total outlay. Shooting deer is strictly controlled by the Deer Act and is specialised work needing stringent training.

More: British Deer Society and the Mammal Society all have information.

  • The Future for Woodland Deer. R. McKinley. 1999. Swan Hill Press. ISBN 1 85310 973 8.
  • FC Information Note 36. The Impact of Deer on Woodland Biodiversity (2000) R. Gill.
  • FC Information Note 35. Natural Regeneration in Broadleaved Woodland : Deer browsing and the Establishment of Advance Regeneration. (2000) R. Harmer & R.Gill.
  • FC Field Book 18. How Many Deer? (1999) Brenda Mayle.
  • FC Practice Note 09. Recommendations for deer fencing (1999) Harry Pepper.
  • FC Practice Note 06. Managing deer in the countryside (1999) Brenda Mayle.

See the Deer Initiative website at www.thedeerinitiative.co.uk